Materiality and Materials


While working through this weeks readings I developed a greater appreciation for Ingold’s work. I had read the Materials against Materiality paper before and was underwhelmed by its premises and conclusions. I had felt that the comments – specifically by Tilley – really destroyed the paper. But on this time around I felt that I better understood Ingold’s project – at least partially because of the other readings – and found myself agreeing with some of his points. In particular, his call for a focus on materials as being driven by a need to understand the world in a deeper temporal manner was compelling (I am an archaeologist after all). My primary concern when first reading this paper was that I worried that Ingold was making good points – but not for Anthropology. If we are to accept Gell’s argument that anthropology’s subject is spatially and temporally limited to the realm of social relations then we have to ask if Ingold is even practicing Anthropology when he concerns himself with the interaction between objects with out a care to the presence of people. The second piece by Ingold – Weaving a Basket – assuaged these fears because Ingold brings people back into his “meshwork”. While Ingold downplays the importance of people in “Materials”, he shows that the interactions between objects in an environment devoid of people is important in that it has direct implications to the make up of that object as a bundle of historical relations. It is the makeup of this bundle that human actors, as just another aspect of the environment, then interact with. Perhaps I am reading a bit more into Ingold than he would prefer. Perhaps he really does mean to suggest that Anthropologists should study materials even if they have no interactions with people. I would be interested in what everyone thinks about this. It would seem to me that the “Materials” paper was meant to be a polemic piece that would inspire reaction (as it certainly did e.g. Miller’s response), and that Ingold purposefully overstated his case. I certainly do have problems with parts of Ingolds project. I don’t think that his unfolding environment of bundled materials in a state of flux actually makes a tremendous amount of sense, nor does it overcome the mental/physical divide. I also find his arguments for the durability of form based on the durability generative principles to be a bit shallow – but this wasn’t at the heart of this weeks readings.


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